Last month, I wrote about a disturbing phenomenon in the world of publishing: international book fairs honoring authoritarian regimes that ban books, imprison writers, and otherwise smother the literary spirit. The prime offenders, in recent years, have been Prague Book World (which last year chose Saudi Arabia – that bastion of free expression – as its “Guest of Honor”), the London Book Fair (which has championed Russia and China as “Market Focus” countries) and the world’s largest publishing industry event, the Frankfurt Book Fair, (which honored China in 2009). This year, Frankfurt drew controversy again when it allowed Iran to showcase, a perplexing decision considering that a prominent Iranian exile author has actually sought asylum under the fair’s auspices.
Of course, it’s not just the lauding of countries which censor that grates, but the books they choose to display. Shimon Samuels, Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has annually attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for the past 10 years to monitor the sorts of “literature” offered by Muslim nations. In 2011, he says, “Frankfurt authorities had warned exhibitors that display of hate literature illegal in Germany could breach their contracts with the Fair.” While some countries which had previously displayed anti-Semitic literature, like Turkey and Malaysia, “were hate-free” this year, Iran had “now become the “Worst Offender.’” For instance, in the photo below, one can see two titles, “The Fall of Israel” and “Palestine and the Zionist Regime in View of the Supreme Leader.” I haven’t read the latter, but will venture the guess that the Supreme Leader’s view of the Zionist Regime isn’t particularly positive.
Here, one can see the children’s books mentioned in my piece, “If I Were a Bit Older” and “If I Were a Pilot,” which glorify martyrdom on behalf of the Islamic Republic.
But the creepiest display at the fair may have been entirely unintentional. “The Dream and the Nightmare,” a book promoted at the Syrian stand, is described thusly:
The agonizing cries of death from over a thousand throats, the wails and groans of the suffering, the shrieks of the terror-stricken and the awful graspings for breath of those in the last throes of drowning, none us will ever forget to our dying day: “Help! Help! Boat ahoy! Boat ahoy!” and “My God! My God!” were the heart-rending cries and shrieks of men, which floated to us over the surface of the dark waters continuously for the next hour, but as time went on, growing weaker and weaker until they died out entirely.”
A dispatch from Aleppo, Homs or any of the other cities ravaged by Bashar al-Assad’s militias over the past 18 months? No. Any confusion about the book’s subject is clarified by the subtitle: “The Syrians Who Boarded the Titanic.”
Related: Sinister Trend in Publishing